Mourners inside a packed Brooklyn church said their goodbyes Wednesday night to Eric Garner, the 43-year-old Staten Island man who collapsed and died after an apparent unauthorized chokehold by NYPD officers -- an encounter caught on video that has sparked protests and outrage.
The Rev. Al Sharpton paid tribute to the auto mechanic and invited the man who shot the video, Ramsey Ortiz, to stand next to him at the pulpit where he thanked Ortiz for "standing up for justice and not turning around while something wrong was happening."
Sharpton told the crowd of at least 500 people inside Bethel Baptist Church in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn that Ortiz "stood up for justice and showed respect for humanity."
Garner died after an NYPD officer appeared to have placed him in an unauthorized chokehold Thursday to restrain him during his arrest on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a sidewalk near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
Amateur video shows Officer Daniel Pantaleo restraining Garner while half a dozen other officers pushed the 350-pound man to the ground to handcuff him.
Pantaleo was stripped of his badge and gun and has been assigned to desk duty. The Staten Island district attorney is investigating.
Also, emergency medical technicians who responded to the scene from Richmond University Hospital were suspended after claims were made that they did not aid Garner fast enough when they arrived at the scene.
In the video, Garner pleads with police to let him go. Garner is heard saying to police "I can't breathe."
The video also shows another officer pressing Garner's face into the sidewalk. Family members say that Garner was asthmatic.
At last night's service, Garner's wife, Esaw, weeped and let out a painful cry as ushers closed her husband's coffin.
"Oh my God," she yelled out just before many in the packed church started singing "Amazing Grace."
Several eulogies delivered by clergy, including Sharpton, as well as elected officials, followed.
Sharpton promised those in the church that there will be a full investigation and the police officers would be prosecuted.
"There will be no backroom playing," he said, his voice rising and his hands reaching out toward the audience as they stood up. "We cannot live in a city that can choke us."